615: Young Competition

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
615: Young Competition

What (if anything) did you compete in when you were young?

Full episode script

This particular episode is going to focus on the United States, just due to a time limitation, but I am very curious how individuals in other cultures experience this.


In 2018, Katie Hurley wrote in US News and World Report:

I was running an assembly on empathy and compassion for upper elementary school students when a question from a fifth-grade girl gave me pause. “What do you do when your grownups are always yelling at you from the sideline and telling you what you’re doing wrong and what you should be doing to do better?” she asked. The room fell silent as one hundred sets of eyes stared at me, waiting for my response. I asked if other kids experienced the same thing. Hands went up as they nodded in agreement. “Parents are terrible at losing,” remarked one boy.


This is a theme carried out through a number of surveys and studies about how children and families deal with sports. A survey of 1,000 Americans found some statistics that seem rather scary in that vein. Only 24% of those surveyed said that they had never been punished due to poor performance in youth sports.


There’s a whole host of research out there about how unhealthy the levels of pressure and stress can be for kids, especially given that burnout can be a particularly big issue.


But not all competition can be bad. As KQED published, quote:


Po Bronson presented a very different picture of competition when he spoke with Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum about Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, his latest book written with co-author Ashley Merryman.


The book examines competition from all angles – physiological, psychological, historical. Their main point: competition, if done right, is a good thing. In fact, competition and team activities can drive learning and performance better than solo endeavors.


“In academic settings, things like chess competitions, math competitions, and science fairs seem to be really great for kids,” Bronson said.


“Very quickly [the students] are learning in a couple of weeks, more advanced math than they would learn in an entire semester in a regular class,” he said. “They’re there because they like their friends, they’re there because they like to learn a lot of stuff.”


For Bronson, that seems to be part of why clubs and teams are “healthy competition” – they have elements like camaraderie that “buffer the stress.” As opposed to say, the SAT exams.


“No one ever walks out of an SAT saying ‘Well, I bombed, but I met a lot of good friends at the Kaplan center,’” he said.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.